Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Detainment Questions Campus Tolerance

May 18, 2007 is a day that I will never forget. On this day, I was detained and insulted by two Department of Public Safety officers because of my Middle Eastern appearance.

My crime? The guard mumbled, “Apparently you’re making some people nervous here.”

I was not at the Capitol, or even at Reagan National Airport. I was in McDonough Gymnasium, the site of my friend’s commencement ceremony and the place where the university teaches the Georgetown values of diversity and inclusion through the Pluralism in Action program. I was at the heart of a university that prides itself on its tolerance.

Two officers from the Department of Public Safety began their interrogation in a public hallway near an exit.

“Can I see your ID? Are you a student here?” asked the DPS officer.

“Yes, of course. Graduate student, Security Studies Program,” I answered. As I gave him my student ID, driver’s license and business card, I told them that I am a U.S. citizen.

“So, you’re from Persia. the Middle East?” He picked up my national origin from my BBC Persian business card.

I had heard a lot about abuse of power by authorities. Earlier that day, I had reported on a whistleblower convention in Congress, the theme of which was importance of the protection of individual civil liberties.

Little did I know that I would have to watch out for my own that day in McDonough Gymnasium.

After all, the Harvard historian Dr. Lotte Bailyn had just finished his inspiring keynote speech about America’s tradition of freedom, rule of law, and checks and balances.

“I am a Vietnam veteran. One day I may want to go to your country. Babylon and the Tigris River are in Persia, aren’t they?” The guard smirked. His colleague watched.

I am still in shock at how ignorant, arrogant and unprofessional the guards were. Not only did they not know that there is no longer a country called Persia – it’s now Iran – but they chose to harass a reporter, of all people, who would end up telling the world about the incident on BBC’s radio and Web site a week later.

More shocking and even appalling is how the university has responded to my complaint.

Up to now, Georgetown has adopted the strategy of admitting nothing and denying everything.

The university began by issuing a vague statement on its Web site: “Georgetown University takes any allegations of racial insensitivity or employee misconduct very seriously. We have begun an investigation into this matter.”

After over a month of silence, the office for Institutional Diversity, Equity and Affirmative Action showed me just how seriously they took my complaint. I received the results of their administrative review in the mail. It was stamped “Confidential.”

The conclusions reached by investigator in the seven-page document can be boiled down as such: I had lied, the guards and DPS Director Darryl Harrison are innocent; they only inquired about my national origin to assess the need for translation services.

A classic case of sweeping dirt under the rug.

The entire episode has raised several questions in my mind. Is this an isolated incident, or have there been others? Who are those two guards, who dared to mock my national origin, and later denied it? How qualified are the DPS officers to handle serious safety threats? How competent is their director?

More disturbing is the erroneous report by IDEAA. How committed are the authors of the report to Georgetown’s stated values of diversity, equality and justice? How impartial were they in their investigation? Why do they consider the officers’ statements as conclusive evidence, but mine as baseless accusations? And did they really believe that a Georgetown graduate student and BBC reporter would need a translator?

University President John J. DeGioia often boasts of his commitment to promoting a respectful campus community. Just last week – in McDonough Gymnasium, no less – he told the new undergraduate class that they were entering a community for “people preparing to engage in the world, people preparing to make a difference, people preparing to battle injustice, and people preparing to be a force for hope and peace around the globe.”

But his reaction to my complaint hardly fell in line with this glowing, idealistic rhetoric. After directly contacting his office three times, I was repeatedly told to discuss the report’s findings with Provost James O’Donnell.

It seems to me that neither IDEAA nor the Office of the President has learned this truth: covering up only exacerbates the consequences of one’s own faults.

I still have hope that Georgetown’s Board of Directors, to whom I have taken my complaint, will take the May 18th incident seriously. The university must admit to its mistakes in order to uphold its integrity and prove its commitment to upholding a pluralistic and respectful campus community. I sincerely hope the Board of Directors will have the courage to apologize and conduct a serious investigation of the conduct of the DPS and the IDEAA’s Administrative Review process.

Kambiz Fattahi is a graduate student in the School of Foreign Service.

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